A final decision, again
Hebrew media review

A final decision, again

After the Supreme Court confirms prison time for Ehud Olmert, the Hebrew dailies have little else to talk about as they pick apart and analyze the definitive ruling

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert speaks to the press at the Supreme Court on December 29, 2015. The court reduced Olmert's sentence to 18 months, following a conviction on corruption charges in the Holyland affair. (Noam Moskowitz/Pool)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert speaks to the press at the Supreme Court on December 29, 2015. The court reduced Olmert's sentence to 18 months, following a conviction on corruption charges in the Holyland affair. (Noam Moskowitz/Pool)

It’s final. Signed, sealed and delivered. Former prime minister Ehud Olmert is on the way to prison. Decided, once and forever.


Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision to uphold jail time for Olmert – while also reducing his sentence dramatically from six years to 18 months – signifies the final blow in a seemingly endless chain of media reports and court hearings going back to 2008, when he announced his resignation as prime minister to face corruption allegations.

But while the decision is indeed final – Olmert can only avoid jail time if he’s pardoned by Israel’s president – and the daily papers give the ruling significant gravitas, with Yedioth Aharonoth and Israel Hayom avoiding any other news whatsoever until page 16, an avid follower of Israeli news may feel a slight tinge of deja vu at the headlines.

For a similar sense of finality regarding Olmert has been expressed in the Hebrew media before: When, as mentioned, he announced his resignation in 2008; when he left office in early 2009; when he was convicted of bribery in March 2014 and sentenced to a six-year imprisonment in May of that year; and when he was found guilty then sentenced for further jail time in a separate corruption case earlier this year. On each occasion the decision seemed final, until the next decision, that is.

And once again, this time regarding Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling, the Hebrew papers are clear and united.

“To prison,” shout the massive headlines from the front of both the Yedioth Aharonoth and Israel Hayom tabloid dailies. “The Supreme Court decides,” declares Haaretz‘s lead. All fill their front pages with a stark portrait of the former prime minister on his day of judgment, Haaretz and Yedioth, presumably by chance, both choosing the same image by photographer Emil Salman of a grief-stricken Olmert standing in court.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert seen at the Jerusalem Supreme Court on December 29, 2015. (Photo by Emil Salman/POOL)
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert seen at the Jerusalem Supreme Court on December 29, 2015. (Photo by Emil Salman/POOL)

But the clarity expressed in those headlines is not carried through to the vast coverage of the story throughout the respective papers. While online outlets reported the ruling as it came out on Tuesday morning, racing to present the public with the details of the decision, the print media, going to press over 12 hours later, had luxury of time not just to report, which they do with vigor, but to also analyze, commentate and even philosophize over the implications of the news. The result is a plethora of different views on the ruling.

Yedioth Ahronoth leads with three editorials each presenting differing commentary.

The paper’s long-time diplomatic correspondent Nahum Barnea praises the judges for what he calls a “heavy” sentencing.

“Eighteen months in prison is a long time for a man who admits his wrongdoing. It’s an eternity for a man who is convinced of his innocence,” writes Barnea. “The punishment that the Supreme Court decreed on Olmert is extremely heavy; the jail time is just a part of it. In addition, he now knows that the door has finally closed on his hopes of returning to the public forum. A political career of 50 years has ended. There are no more petitions, requests, appeals. For an optimistic man like Olmert, who was always convinced of his ability to escape punishment, this is a heavy load to carry.”

Columnist Ariela Ringel Hoffman describes the decision as a warning against corruption.

“Even after reducing Olmert’s punishment, the Supreme Court has made it absolutely clear to all that the place for people who take advantage of our state, pervert the law to meet their personal needs, distort and corrupt the public trust, is in jail. Because this decision is another stage in the struggle, that has taken many decades, over the nature of this country.”

But Sever Plocker, another columnist with the paper, raises questions over the long-term effect of this decision on Israel.

“Without downplaying corruption, I feel uncomfortable with the image of a former prime minster being sent to jail over a bribe of $15,000 that he received years ago. Was it not possible to come to an arrangement with a public admission of guilt, to say sorry, and in return be pardoned by the president, and perhaps exchange the prison sentence for community service. In that case, both the the principle of justice and the good of the state would have benefited,” he writes.

Haaretz, on the other hand, is adamant. The paper’s lead editorial laments what it calls a “weak decision” by the Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court’s verdict, handed down on Tuesday on appeals against Judge David Rozen’s conviction and sentencing of former prime minister Ehud Olmert and others, represents a retreat by the legal system into a skeptical approach, and sends a public message of extreme leniency toward crimes of government corruption,” the piece reads.

“The message that the public will receive from this case, known as the Holyland affair, is liable to be influenced by the bottom line, assisted by Olmert’s spin machine, which Tuesday resumed operating in high gear. This message is likely to be that the court tends to be more skeptical about convicting elected officials charged with corruption when faced with a web of circumstantial evidence. It has thereby fallen into line with the prosecution, which closes cases against politicians due to insufficient evidence. The short prison sentence Olmert is expected to serve also regrettably leads to the conclusion that the price one pays for bribery isn’t as high as it once seemed.”

Now the Supreme Court has had its say, all that is left to do is to wait another month until the Supreme Court decides on an appeal on Olmert’s other corruption case. Then for sure, it will be final.

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